Sunday, July 5

Update on the Kitchen Remodel

This new kitchen is tough work!  Other than some mystery shopping, this past week I have focused on getting the kitchen done.  I added a pantry, which was more work than I ever imagined.  In so doing I realized I am NOT a carpenter.  Fortunately I am nearly finished with it.  Inside, I still have some drywall to hang and then the shelving will be the final touch.  I had to re-route an electrical outlet that was inside, which turned out to be harder than I expected.  Pretty much every task has been harder than I thought it would be.

One task we did complete was installing new insulation.  My partner did most of the ceiling work, and it looks pretty crappy, but it won't be visible after the new ceiling is installed.

Before we finish drywall I will probably lay the floor.  I am using vinyl tiles but will grout the edges to make it look better and more like ceramic tile.  The reason I have put off drywall is because we ran out of sheetrock.  I can't fit it in the Aveo and will need to rent a truck or van, but might combine that with purchasing the cabinets so I can get two jobs out of the truck rental instead of just one.

In all I am happy with the progress we are making, but it has been very slow.  Fortunately, we still have a working refrigerator, stove, toaster oven, coffee maker and sink.  There's no counter space, and the sink is just a single mop sink that drains into a bucket, but we are making it work.

Friday, July 3

My Frugal Miser - June Expenses: $2,241

We traveled extensively last month, so there wasn't time to spend money.  We drove to Nashville for a meeting job, so auto expenses are higher than normal.  Also, even though I don't report my rental property expenses on a monthly basis, I should confess that they were quite high in June.  I rehabbed one of my properties, which cost nearly $5,000 last month.

In June I purchased many gift cards for future use, and I categorized that spending as "food".  American Express offered me a $30 credit each time I spent $100 at Wal-Mart, so I bought $500 in Wal-Mart gift cards.  Steak N Shake had a gift card promotion for a $5 certificate for every $20 in gift cards you bought.  I used my Discover card, which was offering 5% cash back on restaurants this quarter, to stock up on those.  Amazon had a special on a few different retailers where you could buy a $50 gift card for $40. This inflated my actual food spending, which was still high at more than $300.

I paid my periodontist $530 towards a dental implant.  This category will continue to be high as the implant costs more than $3,000.

I report my gambling winnings on the same line as my losses.  During our trip to Las Vegas I won more than $800, so there is income where there would normally be an expense.

June Expenses:  $2,241

$630 Auto ($4 for gas, $626 for depreciation)
$42 Bank Fees
$40 Clothing
$0 Computer
($884) Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol) - income this month
$1288 Food (inflated, as more than $900 was used to buy gift cards that I will redeem in the future)
$0 Gifts Given
$15 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$141 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expenses
$530 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$0 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$140 Utilities
$298 Vacation and Recreation

June Expenses, Excluding Vacation and Home Repairs:  $1,928

Wednesday, July 1

My Frugal Miser - June Income: $11,505

The house I listed in March is still for sale.  I fired my agent and hired another one.  My new real estate agent is earning his commission.  He did several things to make the house more appealing and I also agreed to lower the asking price.  I will likely use the proceeds to invest in income-generating investments and to pay down debt.  One of the townhouses remains empty.  My handyman finished his work recently, which included a number of repairs and new paint throughout the house.  I laid new flooring upstairs to replace the carpet.  I mailed keys to Birmingham and signed a management agreement with a property manager.  I'm hopeful I can get it rented before school starts as the school district has some appeal in that area.

With two vacant properties, my rental income isn't where I want it to be.  Still, I did okay in June.  We worked two major meetings and I did quite a bit of mystery shopping.  I also benefited from a one-time event:  my maternal grandfather's estate was finalized, and I received a check for just under $4,000.

June Income $11,505

$1,848 Mystery Shopping
$5,467 Rental Income
$4,190 Other Sources

  • I don't include transactions in my retirement accounts.  This includes rental income, dividends and capital gains and losses.
  • I don't include changes in investments from capital gains/losses or dividends.  Most of my investments are in retirement accounts anyway, but this category will grow as I start selling my rental properties and I will probably change this policy.
  • I include merchandising and hospitality work in the mystery shopping category since the companies that I shop for provide this extra side work. 

Wednesday, June 24

A Fast Food Restaurant That's Cheaper Than McDonald's, But Much Tastier

Not long ago I discovered a restaurant with prices similar to what it would cost me to assemble the ingredients at home.  Growing up in Alabama, we didn't have Steak 'N Shake - they only recently began opening stores in the Birmingham area, and with just over 500 locations they are a fraction of the size of McDonald's.  I knew very little about the company until its parent, Biglari Holdings, showed up on my radar as a potential stock investment.  The company is now my top holding in my investment account, so fair warning:  I own stock in the company I am writing about.

If you were comparing nothing more than price, the cost of a Steakburger with Cheese, Fries and a Soda is roughly the same as a McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese combo, possibly less.  But have you tasted both?  The CEO of McDonald's would be lying if he said his company's food tasted better.  Steak N Shake offers a comprehensive $4 menu (sandwich and fries, no drink) with some bold tasting choices.  For example, the Nacho Cheese Steakburger has two patties, nacho cheese sauce, strips of tortilla chips and jalapenos.  The Garlic Double Steakburger features a toasted bun with garlic butter brushed on and garlic salt atop the bun, along with two patties and American cheese.  Just don't eat it before a job interview.

Regular menu prices are comparable.  Food is tremendously tastier.  But it gets better.  First, Steak N Shake sends out endless coupons.  Some of those $4 combos become $3.49, and other premium sandwiches are discounted.  Certain hours of the day (Happier Hour), milkshakes are half price.  But that's not the most interesting way to save money.

The real savings are in purchasing gift cards and using the mobile app to pay.  Paying for your food using the mobile app gives you $5 for every $50 you spend, effectively a 10% discount on top of any other discounts you receive.  For quite some time, the company has offered incentives for buying gift cards.  Right now, for every $20 gift card you buy, you receive a $5 certificate.  It's just crazy.  I use the $5 certificate to buy two of the $4 combos, so I pay just $3 for two meals (and of course, I pay with a gift card).  Essentially, you are getting $25 worth of food for $20, a 20% discount.  That $4 combo is effectively $3.20 now.  It's insanely cheap!

I know this food isn't healthy, so moderation is key.  But for prices this low, it makes more sense for me to hit the drive-thru at Steak N Shake than to prepare the same meal at home.